Introducing Yoga Philosophy to your classes


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00:46 This is the 108th episode of changing the face of yoga and I have a great guest today. Her name is Kelly Di Nardo. Kelly is part of my subtle yoga themed month and she's going to talk about yoga philosophy, which is something I've always had trouble getting into a class.

01:06 So let's learn about Kelly. Kelly is a freelance journalist and the author of several books, including Living the Sutras a guide to yoga wisdom beyond the mat. It gives readers a modern, accessible and personal look at ancient yoga philosophy and the wisdom found within, she is also the producer editor and cohost of the living at podcast and owner of past tense Yoga Studio in Washington DC. As a freelance journalist. She specializes in exploration, whether it is internally through yoga and meditation, physically through health and fitness, culturally and socially through profiles or the myriad other ways travel brings all that together. She has written for, Okay, the Oprah magazine, Martha Stewart, Living Health, the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler and others. So welcome Kelly. And is there anything else you would like to add to that introduction? No, that was beautiful. Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited about this

02:12 I've always found it really hard to integrate the yogic philosophy into classes. I read a bit about your book and I liked the fact that after you've explained the sutras, you actually give related writing prompts so people can really apply what they've learned. I thought that was a great idea. So why did you decide to actually write a book about this?

02:39 Well, honestly very similar to you, I had a really hard time wrapping my brain around the philosophical side of yoga. And I met this wonderful teacher, Amy Peers Hayden who ended up being my co-author on this project.

02:57 And she gave these beautiful Dharma talks before her classes that really made it very modern and accessible. I mean, I remember one time she gave a Dharma talk about, I think it was about discernment, but she related it to Tacos and I thought if someone can make yoga philosophy and tacos relevant. This is just amazing. I wanted to understand it more. I kind of had turned over this idea for a book that would make the sutras modern and accessible and relevant. And then when I brought it to Amy. We really talked about having it be a journal as well, so that people could make it personally relevant and very tangible to themselves and their lives. That's kind of how that came to be. I think you can read all the philosophy you want and all the interpretations, but you know, our hope is that with the writing prompts that people can really do the work and make this fascinating and very, very smart, relevant wisdom, really personal to them.

04:20 I noticed that you said this particular book is about the first two chapters , the Vrittis and the Yamas and Niyamas. And could we just have a little bit of definition of Vrittis and Yamas and Niyamas. I'm sure the listeners will understand, but there may be a few that would like a little refresher. Absolutely. So our book focuses on the first two padas or chapters of the Yoga Sutras. And those two are really about the practice of yoga. The system of yoga. They start by defining what yoga actually is, what gets in ,the way; and then it outlines the eight limb system which is the practice of yoga. And the second two books really in the original, in the yoga sutras, really talk about the results of what happens and when you, when you reach the state of Yoga, when you reach enlightenment.

05:36 And so Amy and I focused on the first two books for two reasons. One, they're the most tangible. It's the work. And second, we have not yet reached a state of enlightenment ourselves. We didn't really feel like we were capable of talking about that. So the vrittis, these are the fluctuations of the mind. The whole potentially defines yoga as the stilling of the sensations of our minds. So I love the phrase that Buddhists used, which is monkey mind, which is that idea that like a monkey jumping from branch to branch, our thoughts jump from one to the other. And so yoga according to the Patanjali is calming those fluctuations. The way that he describes how we do that is this eight limbs system. And one of the things I found really interesting, especially given our age today where we talk a lot about you do you and working on ourselves Patanjali actually says we should do the opposite. We should work from the outside in. And so the Yamas and Niyamas are often referred to as the 10 commandments of yoga they're the moral code of Yoga. And the first five are how we deal with the outside world, what our relationship with others is kind of the rules for how we interact with other people in the world around us. And then the second five or how we treat ourselves and how we behave towards ourselves. And then from there, once you've got your moral code, your foundation, then you move towards to Asana, which is the third limb. And I, what I found really interesting is that it's less than 2% of the entire yoga sutras. So I know our focus again is usually on downdog and pigeon pose, but potentially it says nothing about that. You move further inwards, you've got the physical body and then you move to the breath, which is really a gateway to the mind. And then the last four limbs really deal with our minds. So stilling the senses and or controlling the senses would be the better way of putting it. And then different depths and levels of meditation are the last three. That whole process is all to still the fluctuations of the Vrittis.

08:25 What's your best advice for a teacher who wants to introduce the yogic philosophy into her class? How would you advise her or him to go about it?

08:46 I think it's really important to make this advice modern and relevant. In our book, I'm pretty sure we're the only yoga book that references Fight Club for example, or Dr Seuss, , the talented Mr Ripley. We also talk about things like the power of habits, which is made famous by Charles Duhigg's book or we talk about the flow state. I think that we can find yoga everywhere in so many places off the mat. I think you can introduce this philosophy in ways, in surprising ways, in ways that you might find in, in books or television or in psychology or social research. And so maybe there's something in your newspaper or a magazine that you read and you think, oh my gosh, you know what, this story is actually really about ahimsa, or this thing happening now is really about discernment or the importance of a consistent and steady practice. There are really interesting ways to bring that into play. I have a 4 year old and one of his favorite books for a long time was this wonderful book called Penguin problems. And I, after I read it a few times to him, I realized that this book was really about the importance of being in the present moment and the here and now and this idea of abundance. And I brought the book in one of my classes and I read part of it and use that as a way into talking about abundance. And not wanting what we do not have. I think it takes a way of looking at the world with your yoga glasses always on, if that makes sense.

11:01 I think that does, cause sometimes to me the sutras almost sound like Nostradamus. You can take it almost any way you want to and I think it's really smart of you to anchor it in the current culture because what he has to say of course is, is timeless, but it can be kind of hard to understand sometimes. So I think that's a great idea. I love penguin problems. That's a great way to think about it. Has the book been published yet?

11:35 Yes, it came out in June of last year. It's done really well. It prompted us to take it to the next step with our podcasts so that we can talk to other people, not just yogis that we in our first season we did talk a lot to mostly yogis. But just how they do what we're talking about. How do you take this ancient philosophy and actually live. Because I think we as teachers have to be living it or at least trying to live it, before we can bring it to our students.

12:13 I think that's true. So let's your podcast, I have it here somewhere. Living it podcasts. that might be a great resource for all you listeners out there, so you could actually see how people are usually using it. We can just kind of skim over the surface on this podcast, but I think that would be very helpful to people because I do think it's hard to make that translation.

12:43 Yes, I think so. And, and I'll give you, I'll give you an exclusive here, our first season of the podcast, really looked at what yoga is, what gets in the way, and then how we can practice with ourselves and our ego and then in our relationships. And then how meditation and Yoga are kind of intertwined. Our second season is going to be 10 episodes just on the Yamas and Niyamas. So each episode will focus on one of them. Um, so that will hopefully be dropping in September.

13:22 f

13:22 For the listeners, that's just a really great resource for you and I'm really glad you told us about it because I do think it needs some serious contemplation before you can make it really work for you in the class. Can you give us a specific thing that you either wrote about, are you doing your own class? Although I did like penguin problems, I thought that was great. That people could use say about, about Vritti. I had a teacher that talked to me about Vritti and he, he said something I thought was very interesting cause I'd never heard this before, that Vritti is not exactly the state that you're trying to get to. It's just is that's kind of the, not quite monkey mind state, but it's, you're really trying to work beyond that, that you, you need to calm yourself even more. So how would you in your class talk about vritti?

14:34 Yeah, that's a great question. The way that we talked about it in the book, and I'm going to flip to that page, the way that we talked about it is that the Vrittis are like Instagram filters? Honestly, they're filters or lenses that color, how we see things and sometimes they can make the picture prettier or rosier and sometimes they distort it and like a fun house mirror almost. The trick then is to really see things clearly and without the filter. And I think that, um, I think that when we can do that, when we can see things clearly without any filter on it, then we can begin to understand who we really are. And when we can begin to understand who we really are, then we can understand our unique purpose or Dharma for being here on this planet and what we're supposed to do. And that, I mean, when you knew those things, that is incredibly expansive. That's how I would describe the Vrittis and in a way that I think students could really understand what they are. Because I mean, let's be honest, everyone seems to be on Instagram and knows how to doctor a photo. Right? Sure.

16:03 No, that's, that's really good as soon as you said that. I can understand that. Give me, if you feel comfortable doing so, a benefit for yourself for doing this study and working internally on this.

16:23 I mean, I think there are so many, the the way that Amy and I worked on the book as one example, it felt like I was getting my PhD in the, in the yoga sutras and I, we really had to dive into it in a deeper way and, and she has been studying them for much longer than I have. I'm not going to write something that I haven't done or that I don't really believe in. So for me, this was a really deep dive into this and I came away with some very, very tangible things and changes that I made to my own life. And probably one of my favorite takeaways is this idea of cultivating the opposite and Patanjali talks about the fact that you're never going to replace bad thoughts, negative thoughts with positive ones. Our brain just doesn't work that way. If I tell you, I mean this is a famous psychological study. If I tell you right now to not think about the white dog for 30 seconds, the only way you're going to not think about the white dog is if you replace it with something else like a green elephant. And it's the same. It's the same with our thoughts. And so the way that that feels really tangible to me is when I'm dealing with somebody who's difficult or maybe just challenging me in some way. I try and think instead about instead of how they're driving me crazy, what could the thing that they have brought to my life and if I can't think of a very good thing, at least thinking that all situations and everything is temporary, everything is always changing. That's enough to replace the negativity. And then I can see that person or sometimes myself in a much more positive way. I think some of it's fake it till you make it kind of things that, you know, it feels a little weird to think nice thoughts about someone who's driving you crazy. Or for some of us it's hard to think actively positive thoughts about ourselves. You work that muscle a little bit and it gets a lot easier. I think that is one way that for me is really important. I think these are little things that in total really make life better and that make us a little less crazy and a little calmer and more appreciative and aware of the abundance that does exist in our lives. And when we can do that, I think that starts to kind of clear the smudges off of the lens, so that we can see things more clearly. That, does that make sense?

19:23 It does. this particular book is the first two books of the Patanjali Sutras. Are you planning anymore?

19:37 We do have another project in the works. It will be more of the first two books and it really will be a great resource for teachers. So we have not signed our contract with Shimbala on it who is our wonderful publisher. I can't say more yet, but I promise as soon as I can I will email you

20:10 i

20:10 Is there anything that you would like to talk about that we haven't covered or we haven't covered in enough enough depth that you would like the listeners to know about this?

20:21 Oh, that's a great question. You know, I, I will say I was very intimidated by the sutras. I mean I studied them in a couple of early teacher trainings, way back in the day and then I didn't really do much with them. And, and I get that. I get how they can be intimidating and the ideas seem, you know, a little old. I think really the wisdom within is life changing truthfully. And I think one of the, one of the big things that I have remembered, I am somebody who came to my yoga practice very much just interested in the Asana and the physical. You know, I, I was not really interested in the other aspects of yoga and it's still really struggle with meditation. And for me it's a nice reminder that you can practice yoga and never do Asana ever in your life and you can do Asana and never practice yoga. And I would like to take credit for that. But it's actually something I learned from Rod Stryker and I think that as intimidating as the sutras can be, there are so many good, um, modern translations and approaches to it. Ours being one of them, that they're really worth the work, the study.

22:00 I think that's very wise that you can do asanas, but never do yoga. So, because so many people now think that yoga is Asana and, and that's a good way to start. You know, it's a nice gateway, but there is a great deal more if, if you choose to avail yourself of it.

22:24 And I say that with no judgment because I think, I know that this is a debate that happens often in the yoga community, my feeling is I don't care why someone comes to their mat. For me as a teacher, that's an opportunity. I'm not going to judge if they're there to lose five pounds or to get looser hamstrings or to destress or because they want to sleep better. Personally, I don't care. My job as the teacher then is to start to open up their idea of what yoga is and what it can be. And so that's just an opportunity for me. And I think that's really kind of a wonderful gift that we teachers have. It's really sort of amazing.

23:12 That's a great way to think about it. I really want to thank you for coming on the podcast. I think it was a really interesting one. And I do want to say again that the book is Living the Sutras: A guide to yoga wisdom beyond the mat. And I assume that people can get it at all of the regular outlets like Amazon and all of that.

23:42 Exactly. Absolutely.

23:44 I do think that the way that you put it together with writing prompts after you've read about it, is a really excellent way to go about learning My problem with the philosophy is that I learn it, I think, oh yeah, that makes sense. And then it just goes totally out of my mind. And with the writing prompts, I think it would stick hopefully a little better.

24:07 What I usually suggest to people as they read it once through before starting the writing prompts, because I think for some people the writing prompts can also be intimidating for people who think they're not journalers, but, um, you don't have to do them. No, nobody's checking.

24:25 Okay. You don't have to send in your answers. If you're interested in this for yourself, or to apply this to your classes, this sounds like an excellent resource. And don't forget that the podcast, Living it. Is going to be a, you even more in depth information and that starts, the second season starts in September. The first season is already gone, so you can probably even find it on Itunes, is that correct? Yes. Itunes, Google play. And we have a website called so you can listen directly from there. That's great. Okay, so those are all available to you. I'll put all that in the contact details. hank you so much for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate it and I thought it was really interesting because like I said, I'm kind of out of my depth when it comes to the philosophy and then giving it to my students. So I think you're doing a great service, so thank you.

Thank you so much for having me, Stephanie




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